Monday, July 1, 2024 Blog · News · South Coast Newsletter

South Coast Newsletter: Plastics in the lowcountry

by Leslie Bogstad

Did you know that, according to Science, nearly 1,600 species have been reported to ingest plastics, and that roughly 1,300 of those species are ocean-dwellers?

In this July edition of the South Coast newsletter, we’ll talk about plastics in our communities and the effect that they can have on our wildlife, scenic landscapes and waterways, and our ability to manage waste.

Updating the single-use plastic ordinance in Beaufort County will help to mitigate the impact of these products in the region. Learn more about the proposed changes to the ordinance and ways to get involved to stop our plastic problem at its source!

Beaufort County Ponders Closing Plastic Bag Loophole

In May, the Keep Beaufort County Beautiful Board proposed an ordinance to close a loophole that allows for the “thick” plastic bags used by big box retailers, including Walmart and Piggly Wiggly.

If approved by the Beaufort County Council, the updates to the plastic bag ordinance would also restrict the use of plastic straws, polystyrene/foam “to go” boxes, and plastic carryout cutlery.

The Conservation League supported the board’s recommended updates and made suggestions to bolster its protections and clarify the language. Unfortunately, despite a unanimous approval at the committee level, the County Council denied the updates 4-7 at their May 28th meeting vote. While we were disheartened by the vote, we are optimistic that the issue resurface in the coming months and encourage you to reach out to your council members to share your thoughts.A Brief History of the Plastic Bag Ban in the Lowcountry

Beginning in 2017, Beaufort County hosted five workshops to gauge public support for the initial plastic bag ban. With many stakeholders in favor of the regulation, Beaufort County moved to adopt the ban on single-use plastic bags in 2018, working in partnership with the municipalities.

Soon after the first wave of bans, thick plastic bags started showing up in our communities. In Charleston, scientists at the College of Charleston and The Citadel found that litter sweeps saw a 50% decrease of thin single use-plastic bags and a 200% increase of thicker plastic bags after the passing of their original bag ordinance.

Beaufort County Needs to Catch Up with Our Neighbors

Over the last year, municipalities in the Lowcountry, including the City of Charleston, Town of Mt. Pleasant, Town of James Island, and the City of Folly Beach have all recently updated their ordinances to eliminate thick plastic bags.

Plus, many of these jurisdictions have regulated plastic straws and polystyrene/foam products since 2020. Beaufort County has a long history of supporting conservation and environmental initiatives—it is time for us to get up to speed on this issue!

We know there may be some initial costs for businesses to shift away from plastic and foam products. However, many locally owned businesses are already providing paper bags and more sustainable options to customers. Updating the ordinance to close the thick bag loophole will support local businesses by forcing big box stores like Walmart to follow suit.

Plastic and Foam Regulations are not Anti-Business

A paradigm shift toward paper products supports the forestry industry in South Carolina, which contributes $23.2 billion+ annually while providing more than 100,000 jobs and $5.5 billion in annual labor income. Several businesses in South Carolina are already manufacturing paper “to-go” products.

We also know that tourism and hospitality is a $29 billion dollar industry. Folks flock to Beaufort County to experience our beautiful beaches like Fish Haul Beach and Hunting Island. Our county also boasts scenic corridors like Old Sheldon Church Road and Sea Island Parkway. No one wants to see litter while visiting these special places!

Additionally, regulating “thick” plastic bags and other plastic and foam items can provide quality of life benefits, extending the operating life of our landfills and helping storm drains function. Clogged drains accumulate debris overtime and increase the flood risk for our communities.

Get Involved to Help Stop Plastic and Foam Pollution

In short, tightening regulations on plastic and foam products will help nip litter in the bud: Keeping our iconic viewsheds and beaches pristine, safeguarding our wildlife, and supporting local industries like tourism and forestry!

Despite the initial vote, we believe there is a path forward to strengthen Beaufort County’s plastic ordinance regulations, working in partnership with the municipalities and all stakeholders—including local businesses.

Stay tuned for more announcements about future workshops around this issue and reach out if you would like to get involved in this effort to keep our communities clean, healthy, and litter free!

Stay Involved


Volunteer: Oyster Reef Build with SCDNR
July 18; 10:30 AM – 1:30 PM
Parris Island Boat Ramp
Register Here 

St. Helena Sense of Place Workshop Series: Sustainable Hair – Soil to Scalp
July 20; 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM
St. Helena Branch Library
Register Here 

Beaufort Litter Sweep with Port Royal Sound Foundation
July 26; 8:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Beaufort County Government Center
Register Here 

Upcoming Meetings

July 8 – Beaufort County Council

July 9 – Beaufort City Council

July 9 – Yemassee Town Council

July 10 – Port Royal Town Council

July 11 – Ridgeland Town Council

July 15 – Jasper County Council

July 18 – Hardeeville City Council

Contact Us

[email protected] · 843.723.8035

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